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Small business owners feeling optimistic since the pandemic

HOUSTON – T-shirts, posters and other wares that showcase Houston’s hip-hop and lowrider culture define the brand Erica Martinez and her husband have spent the past 16 years building.

They also comprise much of the inventory that is Texas Black Sheep clothing, much of which blanketed a table Monday: customers stood masked-up on one side, Martinez on the other. It wasn’t the shirts or the posters that caught their attention. Rather, it was earrings — each hand-fashioned and painted by Martinez. She made them using old vinyl records, a newfound talent.

“This is all COVID. I never thought I’d make earrings,” Martinez said, as she showed off several of her COVID-19 creations.

Labor Day marked one of the first opportunities since the pandemic hit for small business owners to show off their creations. It also marked the return of the Shop Local Market at Karbach Brewing Company.

Over a dozen vendors participated in the market at Karbach’s brewery in northwest Houston.

Lupe Casis, owner and founder of Furrever Doggy, a pet-focused accessory line, said while most small businesses have relied on internet sales, face-to-face interaction allows for the chance to build her customer base.

“Being out here brings more of a bigger feeling of what Labor Day and shopping small means. You’re coming out to support our dreams our energy,” Casis said.

She began the business six years ago after she said her job in IT was outsourced.

“I started to make my own dog collars and accessories,” Casis said.

As customers browsed from tent-to-tent, vendors shared stories of how they got started. While Lupe Casis credits losing a job, Ariana and Stephen Minton said a health scare inspired them.

The couple started Pet Wants Heights in Feb 2019. It’s an online-based seller of healthy pet food and other treats: including doggy beer.

“It’s a friend of mine here in Houston that makes the dog beer it’s a non-alcoholic broth in a can,” Stephen said, noting the Lassie lagers aren’t beer, rather a selection of broths.

Eye-catching — the point.

“We don’t have a retail location so we do pop-ups and online,” Ariana said, calling the local market important for small vendors.

Chris O’Neal agreed. O’Neal started a clothing line called Especial, which takes its inspiration from 1990-era fashion.

“It’s refreshing,” O’Neal said of the chance to safely sell to others in person.